Culinary program adapts to feed thousands of Daytonians

Students in the Miami Valley Career Technology Center’s Aspire culinary program have taken multi-tasking to the next level during the COVID-19 pandemic, feeding thousands of hungry Daytonians while getting an education.

The Aspire program offers free workplace education and adult readiness instruction at different locations around Montgomery, Greene, and Preble counties. The nearly nine-week culinary class focuses on skills needed to prepare for a job in the food service industry. The program often gives some students the required credits still needed to earn their GED.

The program partners with Gordon Food Service in Springfield to receive surplus food the store cannot use. Then, pre-coronavirus, students would prepare the food to serve at the Findlay Street Cafe, located at the Life Enrichment Center at 425 N. Findlay St. in Dayton.

Only two weeks into the program, the Ohio stay-at-home order was issued, cutting short the class’ physical time together. However, Gary O’Brien, affectionately called Chef Gary by all, could not let the donated food go to waste. The class quickly came up with a plan.

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Since the beginning of the stay-at-home order, Aspire students have been preparing free meals to be distributed on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church at 101 Huffman Ave. in Dayton.

Since mid-March, over 3,000 meals have been donated.

Anyone in need is invited to get a meal and can call St. Paul’s at 937-252-4467 with questions.

“These kids, they do a great job,” O’Brien said. “Some of them are potentially working jobs at night, second shift or third shift. So they’re working till 7 a.m. in the morning then coming in here to work. … They’re committed.”

About 150 meals are prepared for Tuesday distribution and 125 for Saturdays. The meals are hearty and well-balanced, with a home-cooked feel, said Mariesa Brewster, MVCTC coordinator. Pot roast, chicken and dumplings and gumbo are just a few of the meals typically prepared by students.

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In addition, the culinary class has recently started preparing free breakfast on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to be distributed in a to-go fashion from the front of the LEC. The breakfast program runs from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The first COVID-19 class has since completed the course and received their certificates, and another class has since taken their place. However, many of the Aspire alumni have remained dedicated to helping the outreach thrive.

“The seven students were able to complete their class and graduate not only with their culinary supervisor certificate but their high school diploma, as well,” according to a MVCTC news release highlighting the first class to finish during the pandemic.

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